The east end of Edinburgh has been long overdue for a major revamp so the recent announcement that the £850 million St James Quarter project has at last been given the go-head is good news on a number of fronts.
Since the Scottish Government moved to Victoria Quay 18 years ago, their former offices behind the St James Centre have languished as they await demolition to make way for redevelopment. But while the St James Quarter is the largest project, in both scale and investment, there are other developments under way or in the pipeline that together will boost confidence and investment in Edinburgh’s property sector as well as completely transform the city centre.
Artisan’s £150m plan in Market Street/New Street (formerly Caltongate) for leisure, retail and offices is now going ahead while in the west of the city, the retail, hotel and office development under way at Haymarket will improve west end links to the new Haymarket station and improve access to Shandwick Place.
These three strategic developments will help to form a triangle that will stretch prime retail, office and hotel activity right across the city centre. In particular it will create a new arc of pedestrian activity from George Street, through Multrees Walk and the new retail, hotel and leisure complex at the St James Quarter back to Princes Street/Waterloo Place. With improved linkages between the St James Quarter, Multrees Walk, Princes Street and St Andrew Square, there is the potential for Edinburgh to have one of the most attractive shopping areas in the country. Market Street will also benefit from the new frontages which will run east to a new square connecting to the New Street development.
The cycle of tenants vacating space and new space coming on the market is part of the lifeblood of the city and this shift in Edinburgh’s prime pitches must be matched by an equally dynamic planning agenda to ensure new space on the market moves quickly through the consenting process.
Good planning requires the careful balance of user/occupier driven changes with conservation and good planning: preserving the city’s past footprints whilst moving ahead with bold changes.
• Peter Fraser is associate director of property consultancy GVA James Barr